Eric Peterson has worked in the outdoor adventure leadership industry for over twenty years and has guided trips and experiential education programs in rafting, sit-on-top kayaking (rivers and ocean), fishing, canoeing, biking, skiing, as well as taught swiftwater rescue, boat handling, avalanche awareness, and professional river guide schools.
Eric started out his career in the outdoor adventure leadership industry as a alpine ski instructor at Mt. Ashland as a means for his training to become a professional ski patroller, which he did for ten years at Mt. Ashland. Over the decade he worked at Mt. Ashland, Eric ended up teaching both alpine and telemark skiing. He also has taught cross-country skiing in the backcountry.
Following his first season working at Mt. Ashland, Eric started guiding professionally as a river guide on the Rogue and Klamath Rivers. He worked for an Ashland outfit for a few years, and then decided to start his own adventure guide service. In 1996, Eric, and a couple of his friends, launched Siskiyou Adventures Inc., which provided trips and educational opportunities in rafting, fishing, sit-on-top kayaking, canoeing, cross-country and telemark skiing, river guide school, swiftwater rescue, and avalanche safety and awareness. At the age of twenty-six, developing and operating this business was a great challenge and provided many opportunities for professional and personal growth. Eric ran Siskiyou Adventures for four years before he decided to shut it down and focus his energies on teaching swiftwater rescue, full-time.
As far as outdoor adventure leadership education and training goes, Eric started out in 1991 with a NOLS course, which was for “Winter Outdoor Educators.” He then completed a series of avalanche safety and awareness courses, which took him to Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming. In 1991, Eric ended up earning an Wilderness EMT from S.O.L.O. Wilderness Medicine School, and in recent years has completed a NOLS Wilderness First Responder. Hopefully in the near future, he plans to reach the Wilderness EMT level of medical training, once again.
In 1997, Eric became a Swiftwater Rescue Instructor through Rescue 3 International. Eric was very fortunate to teach besides the likes of Gray Kibbee: Navy Seal; Special Forces Survival Instructor; swiftwater rescue, high angle rescue, and dive rescue instructor; specialist in tactical and wilderness medicine, escape and evasion, and confined space rescue. It was through this association with Gary that Eric got the opportunity to teach some of the most talented rescue personnel in the world. Many of these students came from NASA, US Air Force Para Rescue, and the US Coast Guard Rescue Swimmers. Teaching this caliber of student was instrumental in Eric’s development as an outdoor adventure leader.
It was through Eric’s experience with teaching the US Coast Guard Rescue Swimmers that he was invited, in 2002, to be the only civilian participant in the USCG’s Advanced Rescue Simmer School held in Astoria, Oregon, at Cape Disappointment.
In the academic realm, Eric holds bachelor degrees in psychology, cultural anthropology, and a minor in Native American Studies, all from Southern Oregon University (2012).
Eric’s current business is The Outdoor Adventure Leader and all the programs and offerings are informed by Eric’s experience and education, and his most recent project that really gets him fired up is his Leadership School, which is taught in the context of being a whitewater river guide.
Eric has a MA in Transformative Leadership (2017) from California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS), and strongly believes that teaching transformative leadership is one of the most important areas of need within our world today. Eric’s studies in transformative leadership is directly influencing his work as an outdoor adventure leader, and helping him make the transition from leading guided trips to working in the field of ecotherapy and teaching at the University level. Starting in 2017, Eric started teaching Adventure Therapy and in 2018 he started facilitating courses like Minimal Impact Adventuring and Outdoor Living Skills all at SOU. Eric is currently working on a PhD in Transformative Studies at CIIS with an inquiry topic of: How can ecological and participatory consciousness be nurtured through liberatory pedagogies and experiential curriculums?
Eric’s future is in the areas of ecotherapy and rewilding practices, and he approaches these healing modalities through a transformative leadership lens. In other words, Eric sees all of us as leaders, and believes that when one is deeply connected with Nature there is a natural healing process that only needs to be safely facilitated. Eric sees himself as transforming into a healing guide who leads others into their own natural healing capacities. As a budding ecotherapist, Eric believes his best way to serve those who are interested in ecotherapy is to facilitate the natural healing process that Nature is waiting for us to embrace.
As a transformative leader, Eric has been utilizing social media platforms for several years with the intention of being an active agent in positive social change. Recently, Eric also started using Instagram to share his Nature-based epistemology and love for nature photography. Here is a link to Eric’s Instagram. Since the development of digital photography, Eric has enjoyed capturing beautiful and interesting images of the natural environment as well as where the built environment and the natural environments intersect. You can view some of Eric’s nature photography here at 500px.com.
Eric’s Environmental Autobiography
The following is my environmental autobiography (written in 2012), which is an attempt to use self-reflective introspection to describe my relationship with place over the course of my lifetime. I am lucky to have been raised in such a way, and in such a place that I do not remember my first encounter with Nature, but the natural environment is the overlying place that has affected my life in the most profound of ways. My years of being with Nature, being a part of her and welcoming her as a part of me, have helped me to realize that what one sees in the natural environment is really what one sees within one’s self, because to separate humanity from Nature is to remove the very soul of being human.
How My Relationship with Place Has Formed Me
Looking back into my past, as far as I can see, one of the most fundamental influencing places of my life was the small farm I was raised on, in Southern Oregon. One could say that who I am today is the fruit of the seeds that were planted within me by this place known as the farm environment. This little farm was not a working farm, in that it provided my family with the means for survival. Rather, it was what some would call a hobby farm, where the skills of farming are learned and practiced for traditional or experiential reasons.
Both of my parents grew up on large working farms in the Midwest of America, and both were born into families that have been farmers for many generations. With that said, it was important for them to expose their children to the rich learning environment of the farm, in order to carry on the farming tradition, and as a result, tradition is in my blood and in my mind. I am very grateful for being brought up within the farm environment, for it taught me that life is circular and not linear – life comes from death, and death is the beginnings of a new life.
Another invaluable characteristic of the farm environment that helped shape me into who I am today is the role of personal responsibility, which is expressed through ‘the chores’ that every farm boy, or girl, is privileged to experience. The farm environment is rich with life; the farm is a place filled with lessons in life. All of the life forms on the farm require attention and nurturing, whether it is feeding the animals or watering the garden, this responsibility of caring for life has been a powerful teacher in my life. The chores, which are required of those that live within the farm environment, do not take a seasonal break. Rather, they constitute a year-round classroom in life where one must be committed and be able to preserver the elements of Mother Nature.
The lessons in how to preserver the harsh elements that are innate characteristics of Mother Nature, which are often a part of living on the farm, resulted in an important bridge of skills in environmental adaptation. I see my relationship with the place of the farm environment as being a bridge to the broader world of Nature, which I have worked within as a professional guide, teacher, and rescuer. Learning how to adapt to the harsh conditions of the alpine environment – the alpine ski resort – was a skill that allowed me to become a successful ski instructor and ski patroller. Having this farm-raised skill of environmental adaptation, allowed me to learn not only how to survive in the high alpine environment, it lead me to the understandings of how to thrive in the harshest of the frozen alpine conditions.
Working as a ski patroller in this very special place (the alpine environment), which is Mt. Ashland, Oregon, gave me the opportunity to learn deeper lessons of environmental adaptation from observing how others did and did not adapt to the challenges of the environment. Combining the skill of environmental adaptation with my roots in caring for others, which was well established back on the farm, lead to a flourishing of myself in this place where my role was to take care of the sick and injured guests of the mountain. Just as I was taught back on the farm, through experiential lessons in cause and effect, how to take care of the plants and animals (e.g., if I fail to water the garden, then the plants will die), I too was taught through the experience of this place – the alpine ski resort – that if I did not take good care of the guests, there was no reason for the ski-lifts to go round-and-round. The inhospitable environmental conditions that were often present within this place (e.g., freezing temperatures and high winds), offered a lesson in cause and effect, which is a fundamental element of my paradigm in this life. I am fully aware of the implications of the use of this terminology, which is usually reserved (in scientific circles) for the laboratory and controlled experiments. However, over the years of working and living in the alpine environment I have become an astute student of – how one’s actions lead to immediate and observable consequences in the relationship with one’s environment. Mother Nature gives very quick feedback, especially within extreme contexts like the alpine environment.
The alpine environment has toughened my skin, yet the ability to be comfortable in the midst of Mother Nature’s chaos (e.g., extreme winter weather of the Oregon high mountains) has also softened my heart in a way that I see beauty in the chaos. The frozen alpine environment has a surreal beauty to it that is hard to explain with words and is better experienced for oneself. Nevertheless, I will say this – there are few times in my life I have felt as close to the Creator as the times I have witnessed the rising and setting winter-sun on the snow-white canvas of the alpine. To be in the alpenglow is to be in the cradle of the Creator. The amber light that reflects off of the alpine snow could be seen as the blushing cheeks of Mother Nature as she feels the Creators presence.
Speaking of the Creator, some Native American cultures view the raven as a Creator, and I often would think about this symbolism when I would see the ravens playing in the skies above Mt. Ashland. There are many ravens that inhabit the slopes and skies above Mt. Ashland, and they can talk up a storm! Ravens are known to be quite vocal and possess a complex set of vocalizations; I would call this their vocabulary, because I believe they have a language. I often would have a close encounter with a raven (probably because I was very attuned to their presence) while I was doing my thing (either work or play) on Mt. Ashland, and I would wonder – what were they saying? My guess is they were saying, “Hey you, yes you, you’re a creator too, come play, come fly with me, come be free.” Nevertheless, ravens are a significant part of the place that is Mt. Ashland, and they embody what it is to adapt to a harsh environment. The ravens that live on Mt. Ashland do more than survive, they thrive in the harsh environment and they obviously have a good time while doing it (ravens are known to have observable playful behavior).
Having the skills that allowed me to be a witness to some of the harshest weather on planet earth (especially to us fragile human beings) has formed my paradigm in a manner that uses a type of environmental perception that does not believe in the concept of bad weather. I have learned that weather is an objective state of the environment, and when one views it as being “bad” (a subjective-evaluative term) it is usually due to being ill prepared or the use of “bad” perception. This type of environmental perception has given me a global perspective that sees only what the natural environment needs to do to provide us with life-giving environmental conditions – snow becomes the water, which I am made of, and all of life on earth depends on water.
An important fact about my relationship with Mt. Ashland is that I lived in the parking lot, in a RV (cab-over camper on a pick-up truck) for two winters. These two winters were the last two out of ten that I worked there and changed my experience with the place in a very deep way. Working at a ski resort up high in the alpine environment can be quite stressful on the mind, the body, and if you spend as much time in the bar as most employees, it can be quite hard on the spirit as well. However, the two winters that I lived at Mt. Ashland was the only time in my life when I literally awoke with a smile already on my face, this happened almost everyday. This may seem hard to believe, unless you have experienced it, however, it is true and it did take some getting used to. I took these joyful mornings as a sign I was living in the right place, for my mind, for my body, and for my spirit; I was at home in this place that is the snowy mountains of the alpine environment. Living in small quarters was something new for me and it did take some getting used to, but the space limitations was nothing compared to being so close to Nature’s full-force 24 hours a day. Through the experience of having a thinner and less stable wall between Nature and myself, I learned it is a disservice to hide from Nature’s touch as much as we do when we build rigid structures to keep the elements at bay.
This experience of living in a RV lead me to later experimenting with living in a yurt for two years and a cargo container for one (I should quantify the term living as it is being used here. I slept in these structures and used them for personal space but used a traditional house for bathroom and kitchen needs.) This experiment in simple living was very fruitful and has directly influenced how I view the built environments that I inhabit. There is something very real about living in a space that reminds one, with physical movement from the natural environment, of one’s fragile and temporary existence. I have come to believe we as a society (the industrialized nations) have built rigid structures, which represent a permanent existence that can actually keep us from living with the realization of our fragile existence. We have literally built walls of denial, which encompass our fragile existence.
Another critical place in my life, which has left a deep impression upon me and has helped to shape me into the individual that I am, is the Rogue River of Oregon. Just as the high mountain snow-pack melts into water and flows from the top of Mt. Ashland through the Rogue Valley and on to the Pacific Ocean, I too went with the natural flow of working on the river, from the mountain. If Mt. Ashland is a fundamental Yin in my life, then the Rogue River is the Yang; these two places have worked in a complementary fashion to shape me as a whole. The Rogue River is an icon within the minds of river-runners throughout the world, and I too have a special reverence for this iconic waterway. The Rogue River runs through my veins; my very being runs through the Rogue River. When I sit by the Rogue’s side I do not see a low spot in the earth where water merely runs to the ocean; I see the life-blood of the earth in the Rogue, I see a vein of Gaia that is surging with my being.
The Rogue River is much more than a river, it is much more than a body of water, it is a place that is inhabited by a community of life forms, and I see myself as a part of the community. I see these life forms as my distant relatives; they are my cosmic cousins, which I love ever so dearly. If you were to float down the Rogue, even if you were to float down it a thousand times, you would not know the Rogue I know. The Rogue I know is much bigger than the river, it includes all of its tributaries both smaller rivers (e.g., Illinois and Applegate) and side creeks (e.g., Elk to Lobster – to name just two), it includes all of its life forms both large (e.g., black bear) and small (e.g., scorpions – yes there are scorpions). I have hiked and explored different areas of the Rogue, but I must say what I know of the Rogue is how little I really know the Rogue. A watershed like the Rogue is so complex and diverse that it is much like life, the more one learns the more one learns how ignorant one truly is.
I am amazed at how similar the environmental contexts of the frozen mountain and the raging river truly are. I am not about to claim a steep snow-covered mountain of rock is the same as a fast-flowing river of white-water over boulders, but there are strong similarities between these two different places. Both of these extreme places within Mother Nature’s hydrological cycle possess extreme amounts of potential energy, literally and metaphorically, as well as physically and metaphysically. In short, both the raging water of a river and a snow-pack of a mountain, are made up of a three-dimensional highly dynamic body of water, one is frozen and one is liquid, yet both are extremely dynamic (e.g., hydrology apply to both snow science and water science). The internal deformation within a snow-pack, and how it glides along the earth (snow-packs are constantly being pulled down hill by gravity) are much slower processes of movement when compared to the raging river, but it is this subtlety of snow that represents the volumes of understandings that lay within the snow-pack. Being a professional within these unique water environments has given me insights into how rivers and snow-packs move and change much like living beings. There are many lessons to be learned from the places of a frozen snow-pack and a raging river, about nature, and about us. My days in these places have turned into years in these places, and I have been touched by their power at every level of my being; my mind sees the energy; my body feels the energy; my heart longs for the energy; my spirit is the energy.
These two different places, which appear to be polar opposites, could possibly lead one to believe that very different skills are needed to be able to thrive within them. However, through years of spending day-after-day in these places, I have come to realize the needed skills to thrive within these apparently opposite environments, are the same for both. The ability to adapt to the natural environment, to any natural environment, is a gift I have been given by these sacredly harsh places of earth. I say these places are sacredly harsh, because if one does not listen to what the gift is giving it can destroy you with no energy loss. I make this claim of confidence in my skill of environmental adaptation because I have learned, from these places, environmental adaptation is less about the specific environment and more about the adaptation of the individual, which comes from within. This is to say, environmental adaptation has an internal locus of control and is not dependent upon the external environment. Environmental adaptation is an internal response to external stimulus.
The Rogue River shaped me into an individual that has learned how to be flexible yet strong, how to surrender yet prevail in the face of extreme challenge. The place in my life that is the river has taught me to question the Western belief that to be strong is to be rigid, to hold your ground and to conquer. The river laughs at this thinking! Her big belly giggles and roles as she laughs right in one’s face! Not even a huge damn can hold back a river, forever; rivers are patient for they know they have time on their side and sooner or later they will get to flow where they want to. The Rogue River is my life long teacher and her lessons can be harsh and seem quite personal, but I have learned that she is really just a mirror that reflects back at me what I bring to the lesson she offers. Can you see how Nature, and especially the extremes of her environments, is a mirror that reflects our own thinking back to us? My years of being with Nature, being a part of her and welcoming her as a part of me, have taught me to recognize – what one sees in the natural environment is really what one sees within one’s self, because to separate humanity from Nature is to remove the very soul of being human.
The mountains and the rivers have formed me into a man that sees his place in Nature as an honored guest, a guest that is a part of the beautiful banquet that is the feast of Nature. I do not see my place within Nature as one who desires to conquer her, for she thinks that is sad and misguided, and the most dangerous form of arrogant ignorance. I honor the mountains and rivers for they have helped me realize who I am, and more importantly, they have helped me recognize who I am not. Yes, I am a lover of the Beloved and cherish my Mother Nature dearly; my church is the mountains and the rivers, which flow from them. If you want to know me go to the top of Mount Ashland in the middle of winter, you do not need to go skiing, but it may help. Just go there and sit, look all around and take in the beauty, listen for the ravens for they want to talk, smell the snow and see if you can recognize the sea that it used to be, and breath in the view or better yet, be breathed by the view! Allow your Self to be absorbed into this place, and if you can do that you will truly know who I am. If you want to know me go to the Rogue River in the middle of the summer, you do not need to go rafting, but it may help. Just go there and sit, look upriver and downriver and please do not neglect the tree covered canyon walls, listen to the water for it is calling your name, smell the warm air that carries the forest upriver, and please do not forget to breath in the view, or better yet, be breathed by the view! Go with its flow and let your Self be reflected back to you in the water that you are, and if you can do this you will know me.
I have tried to share some of the most influential places that have shaped the life I have lived and the person I have become. Thus far, I have focused on the places I feel have a fundamental place within my life. However, there is more to this story of my relationship with place. At this point, I feel it is important to include three other amazing places into this environmental autobiography, such as:
1) Mt. Pit (aka Mt. McLoughlin) a dormant cinder cone volcano within the Cascades of the Pacific Northwest, which has a very special place in my heart. I have spent a lifetime gazing up at this mountain from the Rogue Valley (from the farm I grew up on), and as a child used to dream of skiing its slopes. As a young adult I finally did ski it over-and-over-again. This mountain lies within a Wilderness Area and must be accessed by foot. Mt. Pit’s summit is at 9,495 feet above sea level, and is the highest point in Southern Oregon. This prominent, and geographically dominant, peak affords the strong willed a view that is beyond breath taking, it is breath-giving, it is truly an inspiring place to be. When the mountain is blanketed with snow it resembles a giant white pyramid raising up out of the Oregon forests like a sacred monument to Mother Nature. There is something very magical I have experienced on top of Mount Pit during backcountry ski trips. Due to the mountains semi-symmetrical slopes (although the mountain has an overall asymmetrical shape – half being two semi-symmetrical glaciated bowls, and the other half being consistently pitched slopes from the summit to the base – when taken as a whole, the feel of the mountain is very symmetrical in its own way) and its encompassing view (on a clear day a viewer can see well into Northern California to the south, including Mt. Shasta, and all the prominent volcanic peaks of Central Oregon to the North) the feeling I get when I am on top of that great white pyramid is one of flowing energy – it is if all of the surrounding area channels energy up to the very prominent (no bigger than 10 feet across) peak of Mt. Pit. This feeling of focused energy can be felt in the summer time as well, but during the winter when the snow has smoothed out the rugged mountains slopes, and this energetic feeling is exponentially increased.
2) Crater Lake National Park is another place that has significantly, and permanently, left an impression upon me as a person. My understanding is the Native Americans of Southern Oregon were very cautions about being near Crater Lake, and one only needs to peer over the extremely steep edge of the caldera to see why! When I gaze into this caldera and wrap my mind around the sheer size of this seven-mile-wide hole in the earth (nearly 4,000 feet deep – 2,000 feet of water and nearly 2,000 feet of steep caldera walls) I am humbled to my core. There is something very calming about just looking into the deep blue water that has filled the crater over the last several thousand years. There is also a stillness that exists at the edge of that lake as if Mother Nature is still in shock from the violent explosion that created this wonder of Nature. This stillness is not of fear; at least I do not feel it as fear. Rather, it is of the deepest reverence for the almighty power of this earth. Earth is a volcanic creator, volcanism represents the awesome power of creative-destruction, and Crater Lake National Park is a powerful place to contemplate creation and destruction, both globally and personally.
3) The Oregon Coast, in particular Bandon, is another significantly influential place within my life, and my being human. I am very fortunate to have a mother that fell in love with the Pacific Ocean and its beaches, and as a result the beach at Bandon has been a playground for me for longer than I can remember. I am actually in Bandon as I right this environmental autobiography. The feeling that I get from spending time at the beach is one of peace, of coming home – the beach is where my soul rests. I have historically experienced a level of inspiration here at the Oregon coast that I have not experienced anywhere else. To me, this place embodies the sacredness of our life giving earth; it is where the land (body) meets the sea (blood). There is a liminal aspect to the beach, meaning that when I walk along side the sea I feel as if I am walking between two worlds: the sea with its marine life on one side, and the land with its terrestrial life on the other. Even the shifting sands beneath my feet represent this realm of uncertainty, which is available to the introspective beachcomber. However, I do not see these two worlds as being separate worlds. Rather, I see them as representing two different characteristics of the one world. The beach, much like a river, can be a powerful metaphor for what it is to live a human life. The beach is a place of constant change, I have never walked upon the same beach twice, and so too, I have never been in the same river twice – when I am open to the present moment of life, I realize that I have never lived the same life twice.
So here you go, here you have me, as much as I can give you myself in this short space and time. These sacred places I have shared with you are not places to visit, at least not if you want to deeply feel them, to deeply understand them; they are places to go to, to be, they are places to go to, to be for awhile. Just as the best way to truly get to know another person is to spend several days with them, day after day and night after night. So too, to truly experience these places I have shared with you, you will need to go there and be with them, for days and nights, really be with them; allow yourself to be a part of them, surrender to them, allow them to have their way with you, have the courage to let go of who you think you are and see if Nature has a different identity for you to try on. However, if you already know these places or places like these, you may go to these places and see yourself in me, and me in yourself. I speak to this mirroring of you and me, because my soul is seated in these places and I believe yours is too.